In 2008, music production was a hobby. I had a modest Pro Tools home studio and a full-time job at a school that I didn't really enjoy. It didn't take long for me to realise that I wanted to one day leave my job and start my own recording studio business, work with my skills in music and become my own boss. This was an exciting desire but I faced several major issues:
- I had no idea how to start a recording studio business
- I didn't know how to run a recording studio business
- I had no idea what challenges I would face in the future
This article chronicles the business decisions I made from the start of my recording studio business alongside thought process and client facing methods I have developed over the years, with the aim of helping those considering starting a recording studio business or those in the early stages of running a recording studio business.
Recording Studio Location - Work From Home Or Rent A Premise?
In 2008, I advertised my recording services locally when all I had was a home studio setup. This provided me with an occasion second income I earned on weekends outside of my full-time job. A couple of years later, in 2010, I decided to go all in - leave my full-time job and start a recording studio music production business.
For this new chapter in my professional life, I decided to get my studio gear out of my home studio environment and set up in a rented commercial space. I was lucky enough to find a suitable room that I could afford in a good location with good transport links and good high street footfall.
If you are considering taking the plunge into starting a recording studio business then you will need to make an important decision - Run your business from home or rent commercial premises. This section lists the pros and cons to consider for working ‘the studio’ from home and from a rented space.
Running A Recording Studio Business From Home
- No commute: Valuable time and money saved each day. This saves time, money and effort better spent on developing business and personal lives.
- No extra rent cost: One of the biggest benefits - only one rent or mortgage payment each month. Money saved can better support both home life and business.
- Family commitments: If you are a parent, husband or wife - working from home doesn’t take you away from your family - the family you work hard for. Working from home means you are more available and flexible with time to help with family responsibilities.
- Client Emergencies: If a client contacts you with an urgent mission critical request then working from home means you can action the request, if need be, in a timely manner.
- Space: You need to make sure you have enough space to work in for whatever your particular business needs. For example, if your business will record bands then you need to be sure you have the space available for drum kits and band members working safely in your studio space. I recommend having a dedicated space for your studio business, especially if you are charging clients.
- Work ethic: For some people, working from home can be difficult as home life can be a massive distraction. It can be all too easy to lose yourself in domestic duties or prolonged breaks.
- Privacy: Your business may involve having lots of different clients come into your home for long periods at a time and at varying hours of the day. You may need to let clients into your home that you do not know very well. You need to consider, if you share your home, how other members of your household will feel about "strangers" being in and around the house.
- Security: Advertising is important, so is word of mouth of your business services. You need to advertise your services and sometimes location in order for your business to win work - just be careful how you do this. I knew a small business owner that advertised his home studio business on Google. Sadly, his studio was targeted by burglars. Many of his studio assets were stolen included some of his personal items within his house.
Running A Recording Studio From Rented Commercial Premises
- Work Ethic: There will be minimal domestic distractions to you and your work. Running a business outside of home may help you focus on your business duties more.
- Location: Depending on your budget you can choose a location that you think best suits your needs… availability depending. You will also have a larger choice of property types and sizes… budget depending.
- Professionalism: It can feel more “professional” working with clients in a commercial space than at home. This is because my clients only know me in the capacity of work and will never seen into my home where my personal family life resides. Maintains safe distance between work life and home life.
- Cost: It will cost money to setup and trade from a rented premise. Budgets and finances have to work well, there will be deposits and upfront costs, possible legal costs, rent, business rates, utilities, insurance, possible service charges and commuting / travel costs. These overheads need to be the business’s number one priority long before wages are paid.
- Terms: In the UK it is common for a commercial property leases to have a minimum 5 years on it. You need to be confident that you can forecast your finances over the length of whatever lease you are considering.
- Setup: You may need to invest money into making the space workable for your needs and studio. You may need to soundproof the walls and ceiling so sound leakage is minimised and/or simply decorate the space to create an inviting atmosphere for you clients.
- Commute / Travel: This is one to consider and is the polar opposite to the PRO description I wrote earlier. You have to be able to get to your business in a reasonable time. You need to factor the costs of using a car or paying for public transport, unless you are lucky enough to be in walking distance of your business.
Things To Consider For Both Options
- Noise In & Out: It doesn't matter if you run your recording studio business from home or from a rented room - you need to be sure that you will not upset others around you. For instance, if you agree on a 5-year lease on a commercial property you must ensure that the noise you will be creating in your space will not upset your surrounding neighbours who can file noise complaints to your council. You also need to make sure the location of your studio is not in a noisy area such as under a railway arch. Once you agree on a commercial lease it can be very difficult to get out of it without serious consequences.
- Happiness: You need to be happy, confident and realistic with the decisions you make when deciding on a place to work from. You need to be able to earn money, find work and most importantly get in the habit of doing work.
Testing The Waters
Between 2008 and 2010 I used my home studio as a safe environment to test the idea of running a business. It was important to find out if the recording business dream was something I really wanted to develop. In 2010, when I felt I had enough experience to start my recording studio business so I confirmed with my new landlord that I will be renting his commercial room followed by a rather large elephant in the room I had to face - leaving my full-time job and transitioning into my business.
Transition From Full-Time Employment To Independent Recording Business
Like many who "take the plunge" into business, I had a regular 9-5 job. My role was in the public sector - Technician of The Music Technology Department at a local Secondary School. I worked there for three years and enjoyed my time there, however, in my last year I started losing heart for the job. Management wanted me to train and qualify as a full Music Technology teacher and that scared me as I didn't want to commit to a career path I had little heart for. This was the catalyst - I felt it was time to stand on my own two feet and develop myself in the world of creative business.
I left behind a well-paying secure job that rewarded me 12 weeks holiday a year. I had some money saved for living expenses, my recording studio gear and a room that I was going rent and trade my business from... Suddenly, I realised that from here on in I would be fully responsible for every aspect of my earnings - I didn't have to do that when I was employed.
After doing some research on how to transition from employment to independence I realised I had to write business plans and goals to work by so that I would have the headspace to focus on developing my creative service business without living in fear of uncertainties.
- Business Plan - The Fun Part
- Will I be a Sole Trader or Limited Company?
- What am I good at?
- What do I not want to do?
- What services will the business offer?
- What services and rates are my local competitors offering?
- How can my business offer more value?
- How will my business advertise services?
- Who will be the business accountant?
- Finance Budgeting - The Scary Part
- What business bank will I use?
- What are/will be the monthly business expenses?
- Commercial room rent
- Business utilities
- Business rates
- Tax savings
- Directors Wage
- Consumables - CD-Rs, paper, coffee, toilet paper, guitar strings etc
- How much do I personally need to earn as an income from the business?
- How much will the business charge clients for services?
- How much money does the business need in savings to cover quiet periods over 1, 2 or 3 months?
- Exit Plan - If It All Went Wrong
- Be aware of pending failure and quit while you're ahead - Don't spend money the business doesn't have.
- Confirm notice period with the trading address landlord.
- Make sure a certain amount of funds are available in order to transition either back into employment or another business opportunity.
Business Opens - Service Trading Starts
When I made the decision to transition from employment to independence I knew it was incredibly important to get the most out of whatever was available to me at the time. When I was employed I had 12 weeks annual holiday a year with the largest portion of that time-off being the 6 week summer holiday. I gave my notice at the school at the start of that six week holiday so that I was "paid" for the time off - this was legit holiday time I was owed to me. That last wage paid over the holiday meant I had living expenses and time to build the foundations for my new business. My exit plan was only to be used if I failed to grow even the smallest interest in my new business in those six weeks.
The Challenges Early On
Luckily, the room I rented for the studio backed on to a guitar shop located on a busy high street. From day one this great location and room provided my new business with a great footfall of musicians. Before I knew it my business was busy five days a week.
Even though I had a fast growing client base, business plans, budgets and goals I lived in fear of everything going wrong within the first few months. It took quite a lot of time for me to develop marketing skills and for me to identify the identity of my business. My business was earning on a daily basis but I had to find ways of securing turnover more proactively - I had to find ways of getting valuable clients that would hire my business services regularly.
Earning money from recording studio businesses and music production services is very challenging. So many of us advertise our recording and mixing services online, which is an extremely competitive marketplace for potential clients to find our services. Being able to stand out from the crowd is paramount to targeting potential clients.
Experience & Professional Foundations
Working with clients is very rewarding, however, it does come with a fair share of responsibilities and challenges. If you have never worked with a paying client then I strongly recommend you get some experience under your belt by working with friends and artists in your local community. Working face to face with people in studio environments will develop important client facing and time management skills. Developing these skills will lay the foundations of two integral areas that also need to be developed in order to succeed in business:
Identity & Marketing
It is important to discover your niche - What is your USP? (unique selling point). These days we all feel as though we can achieve anything in music production, which at some point leads us all to believe we can offer a variety of services. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have lots of strings to your bow but in reality advertising every music production service is not smart marketing. Being a one stop shop can actually divert potential clients away from your core specialities.
Good Marketing Example: "Specialist Mixing Services In Rock & Indie: - Advertising that you have specialist skills in mixing one or two genres will enable you to hone your talents which in turn will provide you with the edge above your competition.
Bad Marketing Example: "We Mix Anything From Hip-Hop To Country" - Not smart marketing as potential clients are looking for specific services and experience and may not contact you.
A showreel is a bite-sized promotional tool that showcases professional work and abilities. It is very important to update showreels on a regular basis so that your very best work can be demonstrated quickly. I’ve found it useful to have a selection of showreels with different styles of creative content. I find the most effective showreels to be less than 3 minutes in length and to be clearly thought out in presentation.
Never underestimate the power of a good showreel. These are often the first port of call for potential clients looking to hire you - If they like your work then you have a higher chance of winning their business.
Master Of Trade
Sharing your skills & knowledge is a great way of demonstrating your personality, professionalism, taste and expertise. Stating that you "mix music" or "record" is not enough these days to prove your abilities within your service trade. A great starting point is to offer written mix critiques for enquiring clients. These types of services work well as they also double up as a project pitch/business proposal. Getting a client to trust your professional opinion will likely return you with their business.
Value The Valuable Clients
In my experience, the types of client I value the most are the types of clients that fully appreciate my creative tastes, workflows and abilities. After all, it is these attribute of my personality and business services that they are hiring me for. Be a people person, always do a professional job, be a problem solver and quality clients will find you in no time but when business becomes busy you will need to ensure you have clear lines of communications for your clients to use to reach you. Having structured lines of communications is so important for managing working time and time off. There were many times I felt as though I had too many options avaialbe for my clients to reach me, which at times became too much.
Establishing Clear Client To Business Communications
Over the years of running my business, I amassed what seemed to be an endless amount of communication accounts and inboxes that I became an absolute slave to:
- Mobile phone for calls, Facetime and text messages (work & personal)
- Home phone (personal)
- Facebook Profile & Facebook Messenger (personal)
- Facebook Business Page (work)
- Business website contact forms (work)
- WhatsApp (personal but often get work enquiries through)
- Skype (personal & work)
- Business e-mail (work)
- Personal e-mail (personal)
I came to the conclusion that some of these lines of communications needed to be severed or redirected in the hope that I would be left with one or two main platforms from which my client communications could occur.
A big frustration I had for years was fuelled by clients that contacted me across multiple platforms. A common scenario - Client initially contacts me via my business email only for the client to follow up via Facebook which led to things being confirmed through WhatsApp or voicemail and in some extreme cases Facebook wall posts.
Being able to keep track of professional client dialogues across multiple platforms is a challenge. Not keeping on top of multi-platform communications can easily pave the way for professional mistakes. Clients are usually the first in breaking out of one platform (e.g. email thread) jumping across to something else such as text messaging.
For a short while, I chose to have my Facebook account deactivated and my phone turned off leaving only my work email account available. When I just turned my phone on after this period I found several text messages and voicemails from clients. I checked the time and dates of their text/voicemail messages against the emails I received from them only to discover their emails were sent to me the next day as they had no instant response from me via phone at the times in the evenings they initially contacted me.
Same goes for Facebook. A gripe I have with Facebook is that it broadcasts online status' and last logged in times. This irritating Facebook feature gives the wrong impression to someone looking in on a self-employed person. I am surprised at how many people believe I am available to talk or happy to drop everything at that moment for their needs as they can see I am logged in Facebook and assume I'm doing nothing. I have learnt to ignore a lot of Facebook messages, however, I have come undone in the past by doing so. Example, client - "I told you that, on Facebook." Me - "I didn't see that message, you should have emailed me."
The Internet makes it so easy for us all to "reach out" and communicate. When you are running your own business it is bad communications management to have too many options available for clients to contact you - it will become a nightmare if you don't put in place clear lines of communications.